"We are starting our third week of practice. We will have the first opportunity this weekend to play someone beside ourselves, the California all-star team. We don't know anything about them and don't want to know anything about them. We try in these exhibition games not to worry about the opponent as much as worry about our (play). It is good to have to make adjustments on the fly during a game. After that, Thursday night we have the Harlem Globetrotters. Basically, all I know about them is, after seeing their roster, they probably have 6 or 8 guys who have played in the NBA. That is as far down as I had to look."
"Our team is nowhere near where I want it to be. We are making progress but there are a lot of areas that we have to improve in. I like my parts and pieces but there are a couple of elements missing off this team that some of us take for granted. We lost a lot of experience in Michael Gholar and Marckell Patterson. There were 10 years experience in those two guys. Then we lost Guy Gardner, who was a team captain. We lost leadership, experience and toughness. That is something that we are trying to develop on this team right now. We don't have it where it has to be. By no means is it where it needs to be. We have to develop some other people in those roles. There is no question that we have people who can play those roles. I think Derrick Zimmerman and Timmy Bowers, our team captains, both have great opportunities to be leaders. Mario Austin leads by example and plays with a lot of enthusiasm. We also lost our second and third leading rebounders in Marckell and Michael. We are trying to replace them but we haven't replaced them yet. We are trying everyday to replace them. Those are the areas that we have to make progress in. We also have to become a better defensive team."
Q&A with Rick Stansbury
Is this team worthy of its high expectations right now?
"Absolutely not, right now. Thank goodness games are not played right now. What is a top 13 team? That is based on last year. This is a totally different team. We lost our second and third leading rebounders from last year's team and we lost some experience and toughness. Does this team have the potential to be good? No question."
What player has the ability to give a spark, offensively, coming off the bench?
"I don't have the exact answer to that (question). I think Winsome Frazier has the ability to shoot the basketball in the hole. I said last year that he was probably our best shooter. Nothing has changed that in my thinking. If you had one guy who you had to play in Horse, he is probably the guy you wouldn't want to play."
How is your team doing injury-wise?
"We have been beat up off and on. (Freshman point guard) Stephen (Cowherd) went out last Wednesday or Thursday. He has a hurt foot. I think he is going to be ok. It has been x-rayed several times. He had a small crack around his big toe. They think they can treat it like turf toe. It really changes the complexion of practice. He is the one guy who is basically working as the other point guard on the second unit. All of a sudden he is out and we don't have another point guard without making some changes. Now we have to take Timmy (Bowers) off the first team and make him a point guard on the second team.
"Lincoln (Smith) missed the first week because of a toe sprain. Then he sprung it again last week and missed Thursday, Friday and the (Saturday) scrimmage. Yesterday, he was about half speed but he is getting close to getting back.
"Mario (Austin) has been hampered by a sprain wrist for the last week and a half but he just keeps competing. It is something that may aggravate him the rest of the year."
Stephen Cowherd's play:
"I was pleased with the progress Stephen made in those first two weeks. He is a young man we need to get back to practice."
"He has had that hurt toe for a week out of 18 to 19 days. It has affected him. By the time he gets going good, he is slowed up and has to start back. We need Lincoln's experience. Not playing experience, but his maturity and his experience of being in the program for four years. He is a 4th year junior. Those kind of people are invaluable. Not so much in points and rebounds, but all those other little things like practice and the locker room. We need him to be a defensive-minded guy that people feel his energy and toughness. If he scores, that is a plus for us."
"Brandon Vincent exemplifies everything that I am talking about right now. He has a great attitude. I think he has toughness and the ability to go rebound that basketball. He has proven to me that he can be the guy who can defend inside. I think he has the ability to really score around the basket. I think he has the ability to put the ball on the floor and drive it. He also has good skill level passing the ball. He brings some work ethic and toughness."
"We are trying to develop those guys off the bench. Basically, our 6th, 7th and 8th guys are brand new and haven't played. They are Stephen Cowherd, Brandon Vincent and Winsome Frazier. The three guys that we are going to have to depend on in those positions either don't have or have very little experience."
Who will be the starters?
"I don't know who will be the first five. It is easy to figure out who are your most experienced guys, Z (Zimmerman), Timmy (Bowers), (Ontario) Harper, Iggy (Ignerski) and Mario (Austin)."
"He will be in the rotation somewhere. Campbell will fit in the 6, 7, 8, 9 or 10 spot somewhere. He will come in when there are some people needing rest or when he practices to a point that I have confidence in him to earn some more playing time. Like I tell him everyday, I don't control playing time, they control it."
Finding guys who will defend and rebound:
"We are just starting that progress right now. We are going to find some guys who will rebound and defend."
"Zimmerman, Timmy Bowers and Harper are three pretty good defenders. I think Harper has the ability to rebound the basketball like Marckell (Patterson) did. It's just that I haven't seen him do it consistently. He hasn't been put under that fire."
Bright spots of this team:
"I think offensively we can do some things. I think everyone of the players returning are better. I think Derrick Zimmerman's whole game is better. When he shoots the ball, he is shooting it better. Timmy Bowers...there is no substitute for the experience he gained last year. I think he has a chance to be one of our better players. Mario Austin...those who saw the scrimmage saw his ability to knock down a few threes. Is he going to be shooting threes when the game is on the line? No, no...unless it is Kentucky (laugh). I think he has the ability to step out and make that shot. My point is he is a much more versatile player. I think he is quicker. Experience has made him better in every area. Iggy (Michal Ignerski)....I think he is better. He is much more comfortable, confident and stronger. I think the offensive part of his game is better. Defensively, he is probably better. Rebounding the basketball is where he has to get better. We lost 11.5 rebounds with the loss of Marckell and Michael. We return 4 rebounds in those two spots. That is 7 rebounds less. Seven rebounds....you score half of those, that is seven points. Seven points in most games will win or lose it every time. (Ontario) Harper will be better. His role has changed. Last year there was absolutely no pressure on him. He came off the bench and played his 12 to 14 minutes per game. Now his role changes on the team. He has to accept more responsibility for doing more things."
Will exhibition games help this team to develop its identity?
"No, they won't be as important as practice will be."
"They start their season (Tuesday) night at Purdue. I think they have lost 1 game in the last couple of years. I want someone like that who will hit us in the mouth so I can see how we will respond."
"He came off the bench for us last year. But it doesn't matter who starts it but who finishes it. Even though Timmy didn't start, he played the 3rd most minutes. His role will change this year. He will step up and start this year. He is a team captain. I think the team needs him to score even more than last year. I think he ended up averaging 11 or 12 points per game. He has the ability to step up and score more points. Every area of his game is better than last year. He improves everyday and every possession. He is wide open. When you get a young man who has the ability that he has and practices and has the attitude that he has, that is why he continues to improve. I think he has a chance to be a terrific player, a terrific player."
Going from the hunter to the hunted:
"That doesn't bother me. I just have to make sure it doesn't effect my team. Don't take this wrong, but where you guys (the media) pick our team to finish doesn't mean anything. Last year proved that. The games are decided between those lines. That is the only thing that we can control. We can't control what is said about us, bad or good. It is nice that people say good things. It is nice that our program has the national respect that it has. But it doesn't mean anything. If that team last year paid attention to what was said about them, where would they have been?"
The team goal:
"Our goal is always the same. We are going to go out everyday and work as hard as we can work to be the best that we can be. The wins will come. I don't want our players to get on a roller coaster. You lose a big game that you are supposed to win, then you are down. We are not going to do that. We are going to practice and play the same way, try to stay on that even keel as much as we can."
Mario Austin at the 4 position:
"We worked with him in the spring and fall. During the spring and fall, it was totally all perimeter. I told him during the summertime, when he was playing pickup games, to play in the perimeter, defend people in the perimeter. Will he be on the perimeter when the game is on the line? Absolutely not. You can call him a five but he has the versatility to come away from the basket. I really think he has made a lot of improvement out there (perimeter)."
"On paper, it is the most competitive non-conference schedule that we have had. It starts with Louisiana-Lafayette, who is picked to win their side of the Sun Belt. They won 21 games last year. McNeese State was an NCAA team last year and has all of those guys back this year. The University of Jacksonville is picked to win their side of their league. Then we have two games against Alabama A&M and Jackson State. Lousiana Tech was 12-4 in the Big West last year. They have everybody back. Xavier...I've seen them picked as high as 4th in the country and they have all of those cats back. They are as good as anybody in the country. We play them in Madison Square Garden. Georgia State is picked to win their side of the league. We play them in Jackson (Mississippi). Oklahoma's picked 1, 2 or 3 in the country. We are on the road at South Alabama and UAB. When you are on the road there are no easy games."
The Xavier game:
"It starts off on a neutral court, then they will come here next year and we go there the following year."
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by email at email@example.com.